Part of the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City, Michigan is a two day, full day Ultimate Air Dog Show. For me this is the National Cherry Festival. What could be better than watching dogs do what they absolutely love while eating cherries. This years show was as great as always.
Unlike many dog sports this one is for the dogs, humans are allowed to enjoy if they so wish and believe me they do. As I watched the dogs drag their caretakers to the pool to jump I became curious as to the origin of this sport.
Dock jumping as it is called began in 1997 when the Purina dog food company sponsored the Incredible Dog Challenge. It was an immediate success. ESPN created the Great Outdoor Games in 2000. From there organizations have been popping up all over the United States and United Kingdom. Dock Dogs and Super Retriever Series Super Dock were begun in 2000. Splash Dogs in 2003 and Ultimate Air Dogs in 2005. In 2008 Ultimate Air Dogs partnered with the United Kennel Club. North American Diving Dogs came along in 2014. In the United Kingdom Dash-n- Splash arrived in 2005 and Jetty Dogs in 2007.
Everything a dog loves to do is involved in dock jumping. They love to run, jump, retrieve, swim, be cheered on and please their caretakers. Some dogs teach themselves others require some training. As I watched the dogs approach the pool they were literally dragging their people to the platform….I could just hear them….”Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy it is my turn.” One would think the lawn was ice covered the way the handlers were sliding. The dogs also cheered for each other. I saw a brother jump into the pool from the side when his sister was on her way out of the pool with the bumper…..tail wagging, big grin.
So what do these dogs actually do. There are two different jumps: the Ultimate Air or Distance Jump or the Ultimate Vertical. For the Ultimate Air a toy is thrown and the dog jumps after it. The distance is measured. The Ultimate Vertical requires the dog to grab a bumper hanging 8 feet over the water. Once the dog is successful the bumper is moved two inches forward. The dogs get two tries for each turn. The dogs entered in a particular match and work in a round-robin rotation.
The deck is 35 to 40 feet long, 8 feet wide and 2 feet above the water. The body of water or pool is four feet deep. The deck in covered with artificial turf, carpet or a mat for footing. There are two ways the dogs are prepared to jump. They are taken to the end of the dock to check out the situation. The place and send technique places the dog at the far end of the dock and the handler moves to the edge. The toy is thrown and the dog is then sent to fetch it. The chase method can also be used. The dog begins at the far end of the dock, the handler give the command to jump, when the dog gets to the edge of the dock the toy is thrown. Chase is the harder of the two to learn. Once the dog hits the water the measurement is taken from where the tip of the tail enters the water. The world record is 31 feet five inches held by Vhoebe. Check her out.
Ultimate Air Dogs came into being in 2005, its creator Milt Wilcox and his son Brian. In Milt’s other life he was a Detroit Tigers pitcher famous for winning game three in the 1984 World Series. While vacationing on one of Michigan’s many lakes Milt saw the ESPN Great Outdoor Games. Milt’s dog Sparky had been dock jumping all week for fun. Sparky could do this. Milt entered Sparky and his dog took off.
Milt decided to create his own organization with the goal of it being a family sport not a high pressure disciplined sport and that it is. To be an Ultimate Air Dog your dog must be at least six months old and know how to swim. They can be any size, breed or mix. The sport is dog centered. There is no harsh treatment, words or gestures. There are fees to participate but not to observe.
Milt’s Ultimate Air Dogs do 60 shows a year some of which are the National Cherry Festival, United Kennel Club Premier, Aflac Outdoors Games, Dominion Riverrock and the Country Music Association Music Fest.
I focused on a dog named Dexter. Enjoy his pictures.
For more fabulous adventures with dock jumping dogs Google them and be prepared to be amazed.